Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa. - A PA state senator is working on legislation that would remove the possibility of a plea bargain for anyone charged with using a firearm in a crime.
State Senator John Wozniak said the legislation is a way to clean up our neighborhoods. He said too many criminals who used guns have been released and allowed back on the streets when they should have been incarcerated.
Wozniak's legislation also requires anyone charged with an offense involving a gun to have a trial by jury. This would prevent a criminal from opting for a trial before a judge.
He said plea bargains are a tool used to lessen criminal penalties and avoid mandatory minimum sentences.
Local defense attorneys and prosecutors we spoke with disagree. They said plea bargains are a crucial part of the system. They added that they are disappointed with the proposed legislation.
"He sort of plays into the common misconception that plea agreements area bad thing," said First Assistant District Attorney Jackie Atherton Bernard. "Plea agreements are ways that we can get defendants accountable using the least amount of resources at the highest offense that they committed."
"If you start putting these limitations where there's absolutely no plea bargains regardless of what the facts are," said attorney Thomas Dickey, "I think you're asking for an incredible backlog, increased expenses and cost in the court system."
Wozniak said he plans to seek a hearing on his proposed legislation aimed at drug dealers and violent criminals.